In Pictures:: Ulster clip Osprey wings for big Magners League win
Ulster 27 Ospreys 26: A highly significant win at the end of an absorbing battle.
Ulster, intent on avoiding a hat-trick of Magners League opening night defeats at the hands of Welsh opponents, achieved their goal by beating the defending champions.
Ospreys, who ahead of last night, had a record which showed just one first round reversal in the competition. Make that two.
While there have been many better matches at Ravenhill, for pure drama this one will take some beating. The lead changed hands five times and after 80 minutes there was only a point between them.
It went right to the wire, with Ospreys, trailing 27-26, doing everything right in trying to set up a drop goal attempt for the outstanding Dan Biggar, only to see Lee Byrne knock the ball on.
In weather normally associated with cricket rather than rugby, Ospreys wasted no time in rattling up their first points of the campaign through Biggar from a penalty awarded by Scottish referee Peter Allen.
Ulster’s forwards have had problems with him many times in the past. So when, after three minutes, he expressed his dissatisfaction with their scrum the Ravenhill crowd feared they might be in for another night of repeated whistle-blowing.
Ulster dusted themselves down, none more than fly-half Niall |O’Connor who picked himself up quite literally after a being dumped by a two-man hit. From the resultant penalty he split the posts to level the scores.
It was warming up nicely, with Pedrie Wannenburg endearing himself to the home supporters with every passing minute. He wasn’t the only one.
The back three, each of them a Magners League debutant, promptly found their feet, each dealing impressively with the high ball. Springbok lock Johann Muller made two crunching tackles, promptly followed by something very similar from flankers Stephen Ferris and Willie Faloon.
Ulster showed their confidence when they were awarded a penalty at the end of the first quarter. It was within kicking distance, but captain Rory Best wanted more. He told O’Connor to put it into touch in the ‘22’ and, although the line-out was a mess, Ferris made the most of a kindly bounce to power over with O’Connor converting to make it 10-3.
Biggar and O’Connor exchanged penalties in the 23rd and 25th minutes, following which Ospreys wing Nikki Walker was yellow-carded for clattering recklessly into David McIlwaine when the youngster was in the air.
But despite being down to 14 men, the guests stunned the home crowd with a try. It came from an
other Ulster howler out of touch, with Best’s throw to a shortened line-out in their ‘22’ missing its target, allowing Collins and then most of the Ospreys backs to combine before releasing left winger Richard Fussell in the far corner.
Biggar converted superbly to tie the scores at 13-13.
Back came Ulster with Darren Cave applying the finish to a fine passage by the pack by managing to stay on his feet before diving over having been tap-tackled by Holah.
That made it 18-13 to Ulster, with O’Connor unable to add the extras. And when Biggar made it four out of four kicks just before half-time, we wondered if that O’Connor miss might prove costly.
Ulster made a great start to the second spell, however, with |O’Connor’s third on-target goal from four penalty attempts stretching their lead to 21-16.
But then another error gifted Ospreys a further soft try, with young Seymour’s mistake enabling Andrew Bishop to hack the ball on for Biggar to finish and, inevitably, convert his own score, thereby putting the visitors 23-21 up.
O’Connor rose to the challenge, for having missed a long-range penalty he put that behind him by getting it just right a short time later by kicking a 55th minute gem from 45 metres.
Ulster led by a point and with Shane Williams and Lee Byrne entering the fray for the last quarter the fear was it would be insufficient against such firepower.
Biggar made it six out of six kicks to restore the lead for Ospreys, only to see O’Connor kicking a long-range match-winner with seven minutes remaining.
ULSTER: Adam D'Arcy; Tommy Seymour, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, David McIlwaine; Niall O'Connor, Paul Marshall; Bryan Young, Rory Best (captain), Declan Fitzpatrick; Johann Muller, Tim Barker; Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg. Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Paddy McAllister, Ryan Caldwell, Robbie Diack, Ian Porter, Paddy Wallace, Jonny Shiels.
OSPREYS: Gareth Owen; Nikki Walker, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop, Richard Fussell; Dan Biggar, Jamie Nutbrown; Ryan Bevington, Mefin Davies, Cai Griffiths; Ian Gough, Ian Evans; Jerry Collins (captain), Marty Holah, Jonathan Thomas. Replacements: Huw Bennett, Paul James, Duncan Jones, James Goode, Ben Lewis, Rhys Webb, Lee Byrne, Shane Williams.
REFEREE: Peter Allen (Scotland).